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July 3, 1834

French Canadian settlers in Oregon Territory's Willamette Valley make first request to Canada for priests. 1838: Father Francis N. Blanchet arrives at Fort Vancouver.

October 28, 1843

Mother Marie-Rose Durocher founds Sisters of the Holy Names of Jesus and Mary near Montreal, Quebec, for education of young women and economically disadvantaged persons.

Mother Marie-Rose Durocher
Photo Credit: Archives, Sisters of the Holy Names of Jesus and Mary, U.S.-Ontario Province

July 24, 1846

The Archdiocese of Oregon City (now Portland in Oregon), the second oldest in the United States, established. 1850: Diocese of Nesqually (now Archdiocese of Seattle) established.

October 21, 1859

Twelve Holy Names Sisters arrive in the Pacific Northwest, making a 7,000 mile sea-and-land voyage from Quebec to Portland (pop. 2,900) in response to invitation of Father F.N. Blanchet. Future SNJM foundations result from this first trip, including California (1868) and Key West (1868).

November 6, 1859

Sisters open St. Mary’s Academy, Portland, two weeks after arrival. School begins with six students, three Catholic, two Jewish and one Episcopalian girl. St. Mary’s is the oldest continually operating secondary school in Oregon.


Sisters accept orphan at St. Mary’s. Christie School at Marylhurst traces its roots to these first orphans.

The Oregon Foundresses
Photo Credit: Archives, Sisters of the Holy Names of Jesus and Mary, U.S.-Ontario Province


New Oregon foundations come immediately. To meet the needs of a growing population, the Sisters establish Holy Names schools across the state: Oregon City (1860), St. Paul (1861), Salem (1863), The Dalles (1864), and Jacksonville (1865).

February 25, 1860

Sisters assist at deathbed of Marguerite McLoughlin, wife of Dr. John McLoughin, the Father of Oregon.


First young women graduate from St. Mary’s Academy, Portland, Oregon.

January-March, 1869

Smallpox epidemic sweeps Jacksonville, Oregon. Two Sisters assume care of victims. They battle the dread disease for over two months to bring relief to the afflicted.

July 24, 1869

Holy Names open novitiate in the Pacific Northwest. Jane Kelly (Rose de Lima), Salem, is first U.S. novice.

November 9, 1880

Sisters establish first school in Washington state: Holy Names Academy, Seattle, oldest continually operating school in Washington. 1888: Sisters open school in Spokane.

July 29, 1893

Sisters receive a state charter to confer baccalaureate degrees, creating St. Mary’s College, the first liberal arts college for women in Pacific Northwest.

St. Mary's Academy Harpists, 1953
Photo Credit: Archives, Sisters of the Holy Names of Jesus and Mary, U.S.-Ontario Province


Mother Mary Flavia, with the goal of excellence in education, opens Holy Names normal schools in Spokane and Seattle for teacher training and certification. 1912: Normal school opens at Marylhurst.

September 20, 1906

Sisters purchase property near Oswego for college and orphan home. 1908: Dedication of St. Mary’s Home, later Christie School. 1911: Dedication of Convent of the Holy Names. 1913: Marylhurst (Mary: mother of Jesus; hurst: woods) name created by Sisters for their property. 1930: Dedication of Marylhurst College. St. Mary's College moves to Marylhurst campus.

December 30, 1906

In the tradition of fostering music and the arts, the Holy Names Hymnal comes off press.


With the rise of religious bigotry in Oregon, Mother Mary Flavia informs businesses of Sisters’ boycott of those in support of KKK.

St. Mary's Academy Graduate
Photo Credit: Archives, Sisters of the Holy Names of Jesus and Mary, U.S.-Ontario Province

September 9, 1921

Sisters conduct first Catholic religious vacation school, near Eugene, Oregon. Model (CCD) used across the U.S. for Catholic education in rural communities.

June 1, 1925

Pierce vs. Society of Sisters. U.S. Supreme Court declares the 1922 Oregon Compulsory School Law unconstitutional, thereby upholding parents’ right to choose education for their children.

May 2, 1931

Holy Names Sisters leave for Basutoland (now Lesotho). African Holy Names today work in teaching, nursing, pastoral work, and responding to the many persons affected by the HIV/AIDS pandemic.

October 4, 1932

Holy Names Sisters leave for Kagoshima, Japan. They withdraw in 1942 on the advice of Japanese friends shortly before the start of World War II.


Holy Names College, Spokane, formerly the Normal School, moves to Fort Wright campus.

May 12, 1962

Death of Sister Miriam Theresa Gleason. In 1912 Caroline Gleason, later Sister Miriam Theresa, works undercover in Oregon factories researching working conditions for women. Her extensive investigation provided the base for the Oregon Minimum Wage Law for Women adopted in 1913, becoming the first enforceable minimum wage legislation in the country. In 1916, she enters the Sisters of the Holy Names at Marylhurst with the conviction that education is the means to change social conditions.


Oregon Province divides. Sisters of the Holy Names - Washington Province founded.

October 11, 1962

Pope John XXIII convenes the Second Vatican Council declaring aggiornamento and an "opening of the windows,” ushering in the modern era of the Catholic Church. 1965: Vatican decree on the adaptation and renewal of religious life, Perfectae Caritatis.


In the spirit of Vatican II, Sisters pursue in-depth study of charism of foundress, education in the faith, inspiring a “re-founding” in light of present needs and times.

St. Mary's Academy Musicians, 1955


Sisters consider new forms of belonging. 1974: Establish associate membership for lay women and men called to live the charism of Marie-Rose Durocher.


Holy Names Sister founds agency providing re-entry services to ex-offenders in Eugene, Oregon. In coming years, Sisters move into many emerging ministries including pastoral care in hospitals, Hispanic ministry, prison ministry, and ministries with the elderly, the homeless and those afflicted with HIV/AIDS.

August 1, 1974

Marylhurst College transitions to co-educational institution, pioneering programs in lifelong learning for adults.


Under the impetus of two Yakama Nation women, leaders from business, religious and education communities in the Yakima Valley, Heritage College incorporates, acquiring the outreach programs operated in Omak and Toppenish by Fort Wright College.


St. Mary’s Academy and other Holy Names high schools form SNJM Network of Schools for mutual support and continued commitment to the charism of Sisters of the Holy Names.


St. Mary’s Academy receives its first U.S. Department of Education Blue Ribbon Schools Program award, with additional recognition in 1989 and 1998. St. Mary’s is Oregon’s only three-time award recipient and one of a few secondary schools in the nation to be recognized three times for this prestigious honor.


Holy Names Congregational statement: Gospel Women in Solidarity for Liberating Action. “In a changing world, as educators in the faith, we are challenged to become creative for the promotion of justice and to stand in solidarity with the poor and disadvantaged. We are called to adopt the promotion of justice as the priority in our apostolic endeavors.”

St. Mary's Vocal Group, Circa 1970


The Intercommunity Peace & Justice Center founded in Seattle. IPJC promotes just structures in the church and world, with a particular focus on the Pacific Northwest. Sponsored by 16 religious communities in collaboration with Catholic, ecumenical, interfaith and other groups.


Holy Names congregational statement: Women and Creation. From the perspective of justice and co-responsibility, we look at the Earth through the eyes of women. This vision will allow us to weave an Earth community, which includes the dignity of the person and the life of the planet.

February 22, 2001

Northwest Bishops release pastoral: “The Columbia River Watershed: Caring for Creation and the Common Good.” Writers include Sister of the Holy Names.

September 8, 2001

Sisters open Mary’s Woods at Marylhurst, a continuing care retirement community.


UNANIMA International NGO incorporated by coalition of seven congregations of women religious, including SNJMs. Its commitment: to work for justice at the international level in harmony with the charter of the United Nations for the economic and social advancement of all peoples.

The third floor addition to St. Mary's Academy.


Sisters of Holy Names affirm Congregational Corporate Stand against trafficking of women and children.


U.S.-Ontario Province forms uniting the five predominantly English-speaking provinces of the Congregation. Worldwide, Sisters of the Holy Names can be found on four continents.


Holy Names Heritage Center opens to promote and celebrate the ministries and history of the Sisters of the Holy Names in the West and to preserve the archives of the U.S.-Ontario Province.


Sesquicentennial of Sisters of Holy Names in Pacific Northwest and St. Mary’s Academy, Portland.

St. Mary's celebrated its official 150th anniversary on November 6, 2009.


St. Mary's Academy named an Apple Distinguished School, the only high school in Oregon to receive this distinction.

Detailed history

A history of St. Mary's Academy must begin with Blessed Mother Marie Rose Durocher, who was born in 1811 and died in 1849. She founded the Congregation of the Sisters of the Holy Names of Jesus and Mary in 1843 in Longueuil, Quebec, Canada. Mother Marie Rose was a woman ahead of her time - one who saw a need and did something to meet that need. The upper classes were well-cared for by other religious communities, but there was a great need for the instruction of young girls of the villages for whom there were no teachers. These would be the mother educators and leaders of the future, and for them Mother Marie Rose began her work. Tuition paid by the more wealthy families enabled the Sisters to also include the very poor in their schools. To this day, our mission includes special care for the poor.

The Original St. Mary's Academy School Building, 1890
Photo Credit: Archives, Sisters of the Holy Names of Jesus and Mary, U.S.-Ontario Province

At the time of Mother Marie Rose's death, just six years after the Congregation was begun, there were 44 Sisters teaching in four schools. In 1859, Oregon's Archbishop Francis Norbert Blanchet requested that Sisters come to the Pacific Northwest to open a school for frontier children. The Congregation numbered 72 when 12 Sisters were missioned by Mother Theresa of Jesus to leave Montreal and travel by boat for 36 days to Portland where they began the first Holy Names mission in the United States. These women, ranging in age from 18 to 33, knew very little English yet they were willing to come to a strange land knowing they might never return to their homes and loved ones. Ten Sisters were French speaking and two Irish Sisters spoke English. Their home in Portland was the Lownsdale House, located on the east block across Fifth Avenue from the present St. Mary's. The house had been vacant for some time and was in shambles. Just 15 days after their October 21 arrival, the Sisters opened St. Mary's Academy. Six students (three Catholic, two Jewish and one Anglican) enrolled on the first day. On November 16, a boarding school was begun when the Sisters were asked to care for a 7-year-old orphan girl. The Archbishop persuaded the Sisters to accept boys, so on November 20 the first boys arrived, and St. Mary's remained co-ed for 12 years. By the end of the first school year, there was a student body of 112; 12 boarders and 88 day students.

St. Mary's Music Students, 1893
Photo Credit: Archives, Sisters of the Holy Names of Jesus and Mary, U.S.-Ontario Province

By 1865, Holy Names schools operated in Oregon City, St. Paul, Salem, The Dalles and Jacksonville. In Jacksonville, two Sisters cared for the many victims of the dreaded smallpox epidemic of 1869.

St. Mary's tradition of teaching the fine arts began with our early Sisters, who felt that art and music were important for a well-rounded education. They stopped in New York on their way from Montreal and purchased a piano. There was great rejoicing on February 24, 1860 when the piano arrived, having been shipped around the Horn. St. Mary's Academy also boasted one of the first sewing machines in Portland.

St. Mary's Academy Science Lab 1925
Photo Credit: Archives, Sisters of the Holy Names of Jesus and Mary, U.S.-Ontario Province

In 1867, the first two graduates received their diplomas. Since then, over 10,000 young women have graduated from St. Mary's, the oldest continuously operating secondary school in Oregon. In 1893, St. Mary's received a charter to grant college diplomas. It was the first women's liberal arts college in the northwest and was known until 1930 as St. Mary's Academy and College.

In 1904, St. Mary's entered a float in Portland's Rose Festival parade, winning a $25 prize! In 1906, the first Rose Queen was Carrie Lee Chamberlain, a student at St. Mary's and daughter of the governor.

The early 1920s brought the Sisters and St. Mary's Academy much concern and prominence with the passage of the Oregon School Bill. The Sisters of the Holy Names as owners of St. Mary's Academy were one plaintiff in fighting the Bill. The case began with the "Compulsory Education Bill" which was proposed by initiative petition and passed in the election of 1922. It was to take effect in 1926 and would have required all students to attend public schools. The Holy Names Sisters challenged the law in U.S. District Court, where it was declared unconstitutional in 1924. Governor Pierce appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, which also declared on June 1, 1925, that the law was unconstitutional. This famous decision upheld the right of parents in Oregon and in the entire United States to provide for the education of their children in private schools.

First Day of School in the Current School Building on Fifth Avenue, 1940
Photo Credit: Archives, Sisters of the Holy Names of Jesus and Mary, U.S.-Ontario Province

In 1930, the college moved to Marylhurst and became Marylhurst College. St. Mary's present building was begun in 1940 and completed in 1965, having been built in three sections.

In 1946, St. Mary's became a high school only, and in 1951 the boarding school was discontinued.

In 1970, the old building was sold and demolished. The retaining wall, built in 1865 from the ballast of English sailing ships, still remains.

St. Mary's Marian Singers circa 1950
Photo Credit: Archives, Sisters of the Holy Names of Jesus and Mary, U.S.-Ontario Province

Excellence in education and the full development of each person have been part of the mission of St. Mary's throughout the years. Along with academics, students develop in the areas of spirituality, service and athletics.

Students of all faiths have the opportunity to participate in liturgies, retreats and class activities that promote spiritual growth and emphasize the teachings of Jesus Christ as expressed in The Gospel, through the tradition of the Catholic Church and as proclaimed through the charism of the Sisters of the Holy Names of Jesus and Mary.

Each young woman at St. Mary's Academy is involved in a vital faith community, which includes its integrated four-year religion curriculum, campus ministry program, retreats and service opportunities. It embraces all and seeks to bring its members to greater self-awareness and understanding of their roles as visible signs of God's love of the world. Our mission statement outlines a clear call to service with a special concern for the economically and emotionally poor and disadvantaged. Students are encouraged to integrate service into their lives and make it a lifelong commitment.

1953 Grooming Club
Photo Credit: Archives, Sisters of the Holy Names of Jesus and Mary, U.S.-Ontario Province

St. Mary's athletic program grew with the school. Sports were a major intramural activity until the 1970s, when women's athletics became a part of the Oregon School Activities Association. Students at St. Mary's had the advantage of playing on CYO teams, so our teams were ready for inter-school games.

One part of our history that not many people know is the origin of our colors and name, the Blues. During the 1973-74 school year, after our volleyball team played several other schools, they were invited to a tournament at Portland State University. An SMA alumna who was involved in athletics said that our girls simply could not play wearing cut-offs and t-shirts! She went to sporting goods stores looking for uniforms and found a set of blue and white uniforms that another school had ordered and then canceled. She bought them for half-price, and these became volleyball and basketball uniforms for several seasons.

Formerly our school colors were red and white, and now we had blue uniforms! At games enthusiastic dads yelled, "Come on Blue!" and so St. Mary's Blues became our name, and we then officially changed the school colors to blue and white.

1966 St. Mary's Orchestra
Photo Credit: Archives, Sisters of the Holy Names of Jesus and Mary, U.S.-Ontario Province

The spirit of Mother Marie Rose Durocher has been evidenced through over150 years at St. Mary's Academy, as it has in schools, missions and varied ministries in Canada, the United States, Lesotho, Haiti, Peru and Brazil. St. Mary's began in 1859 with 12 Sisters. The ecumenical make-up of our student body has been constant through the years. Of the first six students, 50 percent were not Catholic and today this holds true of our more than 600 students. During the first year, the Sisters cared for orphans; today, 40 percent of our students receive financial aid. St. Mary's seeks to provide the best for our students: in the 1800s a harp and sewing machine enabled us to do that; today, electronic music and state-of-the-art computer technology keep us on the cutting-edge of education.

St. Mary's Golfers circa 1970
Photo Credit: Archives, Sisters of the Holy Names of Jesus and Mary, U.S.-Ontario Province

Mother Marie Rose was a woman of her times, one who was willing to take risks to meet the needs of the people around her. We at St. Mary's believe that our graduates are also women of their times who make a difference wherever they may be. Mother Marie Rose's spirit is very much alive in all those who have been and are currently a part of St. Mary's.

Compiled by Sister Shawn Marie Barry
August 21, 1991, Edited in 1993, 2002, 2003, 2005, 2009.

For more information, contact St. Mary's Academy at 503-228-8306.

Helpful Links

Holy Names Network of Secondary Schools